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Building a Diverse Workforce in the Green Economy

Adrienne Rice MA '22

Social Innovation

Adrienne Rice

There are not enough people of color in sustainable jobs, and Adrienne Rice, a graduate student in Agnes Scott’s Social Innovation master’s program, is trying to fix that.

“Right now, in the solar energy field, for example, white employees make up 72 percent of the field, with only 6 percent African American, 7 percent Latino and 15 percent Asian,” says Rice, who is quoting a U.S. Solar Industry Study from 2019. “We need to change that.”

To tackle that problem, Rice created Sustainable Georgia Futures in 2019, a nonprofit grassroots organization dedicated to creating pathways for a more diverse workforce in the green economy. “We want to address two of our nation’s top issues - climate change and systemic racism - by creating viable pathways for communities of color, especially black communities, to access jobs in the growing green economy. We also want to create opportunities for communities of color to build power and impact climate change through economic advancement.”

When she started the nonprofit, she was also working full-time as a consultant for several organizations and traveling all the time. She was spread too thin and needed a change. Though it might sound counterintuitive, she felt like returning to graduate school might slow her down.

“I got to the point where I was frustrated with what was going on with my life. And I realized the last time I was able to think and process was when I was in graduate school.”

Adrienne Rice

So Rice, who also has a master’s degree in educational counseling from Florida A&M University, started researching graduate programs. She had heard of Agnes Scott while growing up in Atlanta, but she didn’t know much about the school or their graduate programs.

After attending an open house and meeting people involved in the program, Rice decided Agnes Scott’s Master of Arts degree in Social Innovation was exactly what she needed. 

“I was looking for something that combined business and social justice with a focus on starting a nonprofit,” says Rice, who began her graduate studies in 2020, and has continued to work for one consulting client, Jobs to Move America. “The program aligned with what I was already trying to do. And I knew this would help me slow down and concentrate on what I really wanted to accomplish.”

At the time, with only one volunteer helping her, she admits that Sustainable Georgia Futures was a “rag tag” organization. She was hoping the Social Innovation program would give it the jump start it needed.

“I thought I could use the program as an incubator,” she says. “As I got into my classes, I tried to apply what I was learning to my nonprofit, and I was able to tailor a lot of my projects around what I needed to do.”

For example, in her “Foundations in Social Policy” class, she researched environmental climate justice and climate gentrification for a project, and used what she learned to help her with Sustainable Georgia Futures. Through her “Nonprofit Management” class, she was able to research funding opportunities. And that paid off.

Earlier this year, Sustainable Georgia Futures was selected to participate in the inaugural cohort of the Justice40 Accelerator, a nonprofit that supports communities “who are at the frontlines of climate, environmental and social injustices who are seeking to create systemic transformational change.” Rice believes that connection led to a grant from the Energy Foundation as well as interest from other funding organizations. 

Sustainable Georgia Futures works to get more diversity into sustainable jobs by offering a fellowship program for college students in environmental climate justice as well as a house meeting program where citizens gather to talk about issues and organize around those issues. Participants also administer surveys, which helps keep a pulse on what other people think is important in this area. 

“When you are doing grassroots organizing, you can’t tell people what the issues are,” Rice says. “You have to go out and have conversations with them. So many minorities don’t know that a green economy exists or can be a part of it. We are raising awareness and helping create pathways to these jobs.”

Rice, who will graduate in 2022, says one of the best parts of the program is being able to bounce ideas off of her classmates and the faculty. 

“There are some brilliant people in this program,” she says. “They come to class prepared. I love the different perspectives they offer, which enables us to trade ideas. I also have great professors who are very knowledgeable about the industry and can offer their real experiences beyond the classroom. I really appreciate that.”

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